Poppers: Sex Drug to Party Drug

Inhaled through the nose, the sex-drug-turned-party-drug provides users with an instant head rush lasting only a few minutes

Alkyl nitrates, a group of chemicals more commonly known as poppers have become an essential for young adults on a night out. Inhaled through the nose, the sex-drug-turned-party-drug provides users with an instant head rush lasting only a few minutes.

Poppers have been a staple in the gay community since the disco era 1970s with their popularity only continuing to grow since then, gaining popularity once again during the 1990s rave scene.

French chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard synthesised amyl nitrates all the way back in 1844, with British physician Sir Thomas Lauder Bruton suggesting that the drug be used to treat angina and chest pain. It was later discovered that poppers have the ability to relax all muscles in the body — the chemicals cause the blood vessels to dilate which also increases blood flow to the body and increases heart rate. This relaxation and smoothing of the muscles helped facilitate sex which resulted in poppers becoming extremely popular among gay partygoers and ravers from the 70s onwards.

Due to the main relaxation effect of poppers, they are still essential on a night out for many of the gay community, however, there has been a shift in the audience for the drug, with it now commonly being used recreationally by young people of any sexual orientation. The effects of poppers include lightheadedness, a feeling of euphoria, giddiness, and a heightened sense of awareness. In short, poppers can often make one feel like they are extremely drunk for a few minutes. The relaxation of both the body and the mind which come from inhaling poppers is the main appeal of the drug for many young people on a night out. Speaking to Trinity News, one user of the drug explains the effects it has on them: “I get sort of a head-rush. I get really excited and just feel a bit out of it for a few minutes. The feeling doesn’t last particularly long, for me it lasts, like, 2 minutes maximum.”

The rising popularity of poppers among young adults has resulted in the drug being used so casually that some people do not even consider poppers to be drugs at all. When asked why they started doing poppers, the student replied: “Everyone was doing them so, I just thought why not? It’s not like I was peer pressured into it, I wanted to give it a go!” The popularity of the drug among young adults, specifically college students has significantly reduced the stigma surrounding drug use, with one user explaining how “poppers are so normalised, it literally doesn’t even feel like drugs because they are just so common.”

The legality of poppers has been hotly debated over the past number of years.

With certain countries like Australia and Canada banning the sale of the stimulants, the United Kingdom and the United States favour a more relaxed approach towards the drug.

In Ireland, poppers are very easy to buy with them being easily purchased from sex shops with some shops even providing loyalty card programmes and student discounts on the product.One student felt that “since you can buy them so easily from sex shops, it makes [poppers] not feel like drugs in a way. I don’t think of them as any way dangerous, even though I suppose like everything they could be.”

Although it may seem like there are no downsides to the inhalant drug, there actually can be some negative side effects including headaches, nausea and dizziness. There is also the chance of skin irritation around the nose for frequent users. If poppers come in contact with the skin, a painful chemical burn may occur which could result in scarring. If poppers accidentally are ingested, there is the risk of methemoglobinemia, which is a potentially fatal condition. Poppers should be used very carefully—or ideally not at all—by those suffering from pre-existing heart conditions as the effect of poppers can cause an irregular or faster heartbeat.

Although poppers are not addictive and contain no physical addictive property, many users have formed a habit as opposed to an addiction, with one user explaining that “It’s not like I need them or anything, if I go a night out without poppers I’ll be fine, it’s just a bit of fun.” Users can become psychologically addicted to them and crave the good feeling which the drug provides. Another user explains how they have “definitely built up a bit of a dependence” and would “need more in order to feel something”. This immunity is not uncommon for frequent users. Speaking to Trinity News, one student explains how they “do [poppers] most nights out, like a few times a week,” and are aware that their usage of poppers is “just complete habit forming.” Another user highlights how they are not dependent on poppers and “could go on a night out and not take poppers, I don’t need them to have fun or anything.” However, the student also simply states “I just like doing [poppers] from time to time.”

As poppers provide a temporary, short-lived high, the long-term effects of usage are not as severe in comparison to other stimulant drugs like cocaine or ecstasy.

However, if a user chooses to stop the regular, frequent use of the inhalant drug could result in users suffering from side effects like anxiety, depression and an overall ‘low’ feeling.

Even though the original intended use of the drug may have changed over time, one thing’s for certain, poppers are not going anywhere! What was once a heart medication now serves the dual purpose of both a sexual enhancement drug and a recreational party drug for people of all sexual orientations and ages. With the popularity of poppers only continuing to rise among students and the drug being extremely normalised in our society, one may wonder which is the next drug which will no longer be considered ‘taboo’.